MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No one has to tell West Virginia about the misery of not knowing who will start at quarterback, but the Mountaineers are about to agonize over preparations for an opponent that hasn’t named its starter.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday he hasn’t decided who will start Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and he wouldn’t commit to playing both junior Blake Sims and transfer Jacob Coker against WVU. They’re listed together on Alabama’s depth chart, something Saban doesn’t put much stock into, but Saban did say Sims, who is regarded as a more capable runner than the more traditional Coker, has a specific advantage in what’s been an even competition.
“Blake has a lot more familiarity with the system having been here longer,” Saban said. “I think he’s more comfortable doing the things we do, and he’s done a really good job. He’s played really, really well all camp and has played well in the scrimmages. The team has had a good rhythm when he’s in at quarterback.
“Jacob, obviously, is the newer guy of the two and doesn’t have the same knowledge or experience. We’re just trying to get him more and more familiar so we can play with the rhythm we play with offensively. It’s about confidence.”
The 6-foot, 208-pound Sims redshirted as a freshman in 2010 and played running back sparingly in 2011. He was quarterback A.J. McCarron’s backup the past two seasons and has played in 23 career games. Sims has completed 23 of 39 pass attempts for 244 yards.
Coker, meanwhile, was a backup at Florida State who graduated early and transferred during the summer. He’s 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and has played in 10 games, completing 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards.
“To think a guy can play with confidence when a player doesn’t have knowledge is almost, like, stupid to think that,” Saban said. “That player has to be able to develop a knowledge and understanding of what he’s supposed to do. There really has to be a confidence in him doing it. I think young players struggle with this, too, so somebody in the quarterback situation in a new system with new terminology and all that, that’s got to be a bit of a factor.”
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WVU CORNERBACK Ishmael Banks, who started 12 games last season, but had been kept out of practice in the final few days of preseason camp, will miss the first three games of the season. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Banks was “reinstated” after Banks’ eligibility case was sent to the NCAA, but that “academic issues” prompted the suspension.
Banks can practice, but won’t play against Alabama, Towson and Maryland. Holgorsen said the depth at cornerback is the best it’s been since he’s been with the Mountaineers and that it’s up to the players to prove who deserves the top spot.
“You get to a point in camp where you’re not going to get a whole lot better and you really don’t know what you’ve got until they get under the lights and get in a live situation where you can see how they respond to those situations.
“Terrell Chestnut’s been playing well. He’s going to take snaps. Travis Bell’s been playing well. He’s going to take snaps. (Newly arrived junior college transfer) Jaylon Myers is full-go. He’s still learning because he was late to camp, but he’s full-go and he’ll be ready to go. Ricky Rumph is back and healthy and doing a good job. We’ve got bodies at corner, bodies that have played. We’ve got to see how they respond.”
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SATURDAY’S GAME will be the first for Lane Kiffin as a coordinator since helping Southern California beat Michigan to win the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2006 season. He moved on to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC, but was fired by the Trojans during the 2013 season.
Alabama hired Kiffin in the offseason to replace Doug Nussmeier, who moved on to run Michigan’s offense. Saban, who exercises a certain level of control on defense and still works extensively with defensive backs, said he’ll mostly stay out of Kiffin’s way during games.
“As a play-caller, you have to let the guy have a rhythm for what he’s trying to do,” Saban said. “I’d rather make my suggestions between the series. In other words, not while we have the ball.
“Maybe, ‘Say, look, they’re doing this. We thought they were going to do that. Let’s make sure we go do that.’ I might say, ‘The next time we get the ball in good field position, let’s take a shot on these guys because they’re playing us really close outside.’ I’d rather make those kinds of recommendations than to try to get in the way of the signal-caller while he’s trying to call the game.”
Saban likened it to the way he or his assistants handle players. He said he’ll scold a cornerback for letting the offense complete a deep pass in practice, but that he’d “be over there rubbing their neck in a game so they don’t let it go over their head again.”
“I know that’s putting a lot of trust in another person, but that’s been the most effective way for me through the years as the head coach because I think you can really mess a guy up if you’re always questioning what he does,” he said.
Kiffin has promised “very small changes” to what the Crimson Tide does on offense, and Saban said Kiffin has merely worked with what’s in place and tried to make the attack more diverse and more effective.
“We’ve tried to make some changes systematically to help us improve maybe some of the (plays with multiple options) we present offensively, in terms of what a defense has to defend,” Saban said. “Then we sort of put an asterisk by that to say it’s got to fit with what our players can do, especially with a new quarterback.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.